So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Fathers and Daughters: In Their Own Words. Mariana Ruth Cook

Mariana Cook's book Fathers and Daughters is dedicated to her father who was eighty years old at the time, and was approaching the end of his life. Cook says "these pictures were made as an exploration" because she became fascinated with every father and daughter" she saw. She was "was anxious to understand their feelings for each other."

The book contains 70 full-page black and white photos each containing a father and his daughter(s). These are what one critic called "intimate yet still formal portrait photographs" in which the relationship of the subjects to each other is revealed through their placement, body language, points of contact, the setting, and the objects they chose to have with them in the pictures. In one, the subjects arise out of a sea of stuffed animals. In two others, the father and daughter have a book between them.

The subjects had the opportunity to write brief essays about their relationship, but not all chose to do so. These words range from simple to profound as these people delve into their understanding of the father-daughter bond or their own personal relationships. Jaques Seguela, a Parisian advertising executive, writes: "Men love women, as we all know, but actually they prefer girls, by which I mean daughters. Perhaps this is the crux of love, these father-daughter relationships that transcend tenderness and affection, in which admiration, too, transcends objectivity." One father writes about how his daughter saved his life. Often the essays seem to be a way for the person, especially the daughters, to express the inexpressible.

Fathers And Daughters begins with an introduction by William Saroyan, who appears in this book with his three daughters. He says:

Mariana Cook has in this portfolio of pictures encompassing so many fathers and daughters achieved a substantial miracle of photography. There is not only a remarkable clarity of technique and vision but an ability to capture the nuances or relationship; one can assume that these moments, electric and vivid, are created out of that intuitive grasp of the revealing instant possessed only by the most accomplished artist. There is nothing lax or dilatory in any of these pictures; each has both precision and luminosity, and in each of them one can percieve the nearly visible energy that flows from the intimacy of kinship. That all of these images and arrangements and not entirely harmonious, nor without emotional tension, adds to their appeal, and to their honesty. What matters is the poetic grace with which the artist has arrested for a moment the humor, the tenderness and, most often, the love that underlie one of the best of all human connections.

I bought this book for its portraits of famous people. Chinua Achebe, Harry Blackmun, Senator Bill Bradley, Vernon Jordan, Yo Yo Ma, Senator George McGovern, and General Colin Powell are among those depicted. I went on to love it for its honesty and its clear depiction of the best values obtainable in the father-daughter bond. This would make a great Father's Day gift to the man who is blessed to have daughters.

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